Jack: AVB ran out of friends, ideas, and time at Spurs

Kristian Jack
12/16/2013 9:53:03 AM
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There is no trophy for finishing fourth in the Premier League.

Just ask Arsenal fans.

However, Arsene Wenger has repeatedly told anyone willing to listen that finishing in that spot is more important than winning a cup competition.

Of course, he would say that. The Gunners have not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup but have qualified for the Champions League for 16 years in a row.

For many years, Arsenal finishing in the top four should not have been considered a success.

Last March, however, Wenger's men lost 2-1 at White Hart Lane to fourth-placed Tottenham and trailed their North London rivals by seven points with ten games to spare.

Spurs would go on to falter, while Arsenal hit top gear, going on to maintain their qualification record for Europe's elite club competition.

Andre Villas-Boas' team finished fifth, one point behind Arsenal for the second straight year. Over 38 matches the margin was as slim as it was painful.

Tottenham became the first team in Premier League history to get to 72 points and not finish in the top four. The 1.89 points per game was their most successful season point-wise since 1967. Yet, nobody knew or cared.

They had finished outside the top four, missed out on the Champions League and were about to lose their best player in Gareth Bale.

Bale's brilliance last season made him virtually irreplaceable. In the 17 Premier League games he scored in last season Tottenham's record was 14 wins, two draws and one loss. He was that important.

However, under the guidance of new technical director Franco Baldini, Spurs had a fabulous summer in the transfer market, spending over 100 million pounds on Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho, Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen. None of those players were Bale, but Bale was winning Tottenham matches last season which regularly featured players such as Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, Clint Dempsey and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

"We are stronger than the previous year, we had problems last year when we had a couple or replaced some key players, now we have quality in depth," said Villas-Boas after a win over Norwich earlier this season.

Quality in depth has not led to an improvement so far. The 2013/14 season was supposed to be a season where Spurs fans wouldn't be reminded of the loss of Bale.

Sixteen games into the Premier League season and the White Hart Lane faithful are still waiting to move on. If their Premier League campaign took a wrong turn in a recent 6-0 thumping at Man City, it officially went off the rails on Sunday when they were humiliated 5-0 at home to Liverpool.

"This is a game all about the brilliance of Liverpool," preached the commentator at the conclusion of the match, and although Brendan Rodgers' side performed very well, the harsh reality for Villas-Boas was his side were absolutely pathetic.

Sure, Luis Suarez scored at least one goal, of his two, that few players in the game could have scored, Jordan Henderson's runs from deep terrorized Tottenham's makeshift back four and Paulinho's red card at 2-0 didn't help, but anyone who could make a claim that Tottenham didn't deserve to lose by five goals would be missing the point.

They were outclassed in all departments by a Liverpool team who last season won just one game from 12 against the top six. It was an alarming defeat that even his admirers struggled to back him after. It was a minority group growing quieter by the week. By Monday morning, when he was sacked, few felt it was the wrong decision.

You see, the 36-year-old does not endear himself to others. Publicly, this season he attacked his own fans, his own players and the media.

When he said his team 'needed to be ashamed of themselves' following the loss at Manchester City those in his camp could have said the language barrier may have been to blame for a misguided, harsh attack on his players.

However, when he took on the team's supporters following a home win against Hull City there was nothing for his backers to hide behind.

"This victory belongs to the players, they did it themselves, playing in a very difficult atmosphere, with almost no support coming. We have a wonderful set of fans but I am pretty sure they can do better and they know they can do better."

It was the sort of quote, Jose Mourinho wouldn't have even got away with.

It was a remarkable statement from a man who has had been at the club for less than 18 months, and achieved nothing as a manager in England.

A win in the league cup a few days later, against Hull again, apparently, according to Villas-Boas, saw the fans get back to the level the manager demanded. However, football fans have long memories and the manager had picked on the wrong group.

His next target was the media. After drawing 2-2 in the week, following the loss to Man City, he said: "the pressure this week was aggressive and agenda driven, (I am) very fortunate to have a group of players who responded in this manner to show the unity of the group."

There is little doubt that some writers, and radio personalities, in England did not believe Villas-Boas is good enough to manage Tottenham. However, targeting certain individuals for things they wrote, online and in the newspaper, showed a touchy, oversensitive side from Villas-Boas at a time when he needed to stay away from the headlines.

He is not a man blessed with the charisma of Mourinho - very few are - but in his media interviews, through the directness of his answers, comes confidence and a self-assurance that would point towards not caring what others think. Yet, the current court of public opinion is England, a country, yet to be convinced by a man who Chelsea fired less than a season into the job, and easily influenced by what pundits and writers have to say.

It is a battle that Villas-Boas, who was hired, for a reason, to take charge of two huge clubs in England before he turned 35, could only win by proving himself with his team.

And that is where he needed to turn, to his players, to find the vindication he so clearly needed. However, the players, bankrolled by Daniel Levy, and trusted by Baldini, to deliver, so far did not perform anywhere close to the level Tottenham require and that's why Villas-Boas' has lost his job. The nonsense in the media, making him bigger than the club, certainly contributed to it but ultimately he didn't get the best out of the players and the way they were humiliated at home to Liverpool is sure to send thoughts of doubt into the players mind about their manager. Once that happens, a change is necessary.

Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was signed to excel behind a high back line but he repeatedly made poor judgements coming off his line and has costed the team a number of goals already this season. The 6-0 loss at the Etihad embarrassed the incredibly high line their defence play with and they were able to take seven points from a possible nine following that when they sat deeper, yet they returned to that style against Liverpool and were badly exposed in that area again. It is clear Capoue and Michael Dawson have no understanding together but the fact the manager decided that approach at the start, and stuck with it throughout the game, leaves many to question his tactical acumen. Surely, Capoue, covering for many injuries at the centre back position, would have been helped by playing closer to his goalkeeper and keeping Suarez in front of him more.

Further up the pitch confusion remained. Against Manchester United, Spurs started, and finished with, three central midfielders for the first time, but Paulinho's inclusion, alongside Sandro and Moussa Dembele, was merely to play off the front striker, pushing the wingers slightly deeper in a formation that could be labelled 4-4-1-1. That is how he began the match against Liverpool, but by the time Paulinho was sent off, he had gone from being the most attack-minded central midfielder to the deepest holding midfielder behind Lewis Holtby and Chadli, after Sandro left through injury and the ineffective Dembele was substituted. Paulinho is one of the club's best players and his manager needed to decide whether he is best suited as an attacking midfielder, like he played at Corinthians, or as a defensive midfielder, sitting deeper and making occasional runs forward, like he does for Brazil.

Spurs could have played a midfield three the way Liverpool did - having one holder and two runners in front of him - but that requires their wide players to perform and this season this has not been a strong point for Tottenham. In Soldado, they have signed a player who scored all of his La Liga goals last season in the penalty box. He needs service. He is certainly culpable for the club's issues in front of goal as well, but Villas-Boas' system did not get the best out of his wide players with many cutting in too often, and those staying out wide delivering far too many poor crosses.

It is easy to point to the many shots on goal and the brilliant performances of David De Gea and Tim Krul, in particular, to deny them in recent matches but there is a glaring issue with their unity in attack. Too many goals have come from long-range shots, errors by their opponents or penalty kicks and too few have come from moves created by themselves. The Villas-Boas high defensive line has some strengths but the fact is he has just 22 clean sheets in 81 Premier League games as a manager.

Games come thick and fast this time of year and we are less than two weeks away from the Premier League season being half over. Villas-Boas ran out of time to find a system and style of play that can get the best out of his players.

On Sunday he disagreed, saying: "I do not need to convince anybody, our run in the other competitions have been magnificent, our form in the Premier League is not there but our ambition to win trophies is still the same, the ambition to qualify for the Champions League is still the same."

It turned out beating up on the likes of Aston Villa, Hull (on penalties), Anzhi, Tromso and some team called Sheriff meant little at this time.

A trophy for the fans would be great but at the moment many of those matches have become an inconvenience where the form simply does not translate to the league.

Finishing fifth last season, and not fourth, denied Villas-Boas a real European theatre to perform, allowing him time to get over any issues he has domestically.

There is no trophy for finishing fourth in the Premier League.

But there is little doubt it offers a manager real security.

Just ask Arsene Wenger.

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